Thanks to the sensibilities that devise grotesque horror movies and their proliferation in email forwards during the ‘90s, a number of colorful urban legends have seeped into American folklore, enriching the current body of myth with a dizzying amount of gore. One genre of ‘90s email forwards comprises public service announcements, usually beginning with the injunction to “forward this message to every [usually “woman”] you know; you could save a life.” The message will proceed to outline some new tactic employed by gangsters/serial killers/rapists to lure well-meaning people into an unsafe situation. According to one such announcement which has recently migrated to the Facebook circuit, a girl escaped a rapist impersonating a police officer while dialing “112” from the fake cop car….a sort of 911 within 911, if you will.
These urban legends are largely harmless, provided they do not misinform or drive a person to paranoia. The above story, as it turns out, is false: 112 will not always direct you to the proper authorities. A better alternative to memorizing “112” is to refrain from pulling over for unmarked cars. However, other urban legends, while hooey, do teach appropriate morals—cases in point, those legends listed below:
1. Do not give lifts to strangers/accept hitchhikers.
One urban legend reports that men in business attire will occasionally lurk in mall parking lots for women with flat tires to ask for help. After affixing a new tire, he asks for a ride to the other side of the mall, where his car is parked. The woman, smelling a rat, runs back to the store and returns with mall security to find that the man has disappeared without his briefcase. The briefcase, of course, contains duct tape, knives, and other assault tools.
Speaking of smelling a rat, it is interesting to note that the man in this story does not slash tires; he actually just lies in wait. Such an unrewarding enterprise rings false for a reason: it is false. However, this does not mean that you should allow potentially dangerous strangers access to your car’s steering wheel or to your neck.
Say “no” to hitchhikers. You never know which of them might be an escaped convict.
2. Check your car’s backseat before getting in.
This “account” finds a lone woman fueling up at a gas station and getting stopped by an attendant just as she is about to drive away. The attendant insists that she has forgotten to pay until she leaves the vehicle to go inside, where he tells her that the real reason he called her in was to tell her about an intruder in her backseat.
A longer variation details the story of a woman who drives her van to a police station one night to escape a following car whose driver periodically flashes its lights, blinding her in her flight. When she arrives at the station, the car pulls up next to her; and its driver informs her that the flashing lights were to halt a dark figure he had seen advancing to the front of the car.
Whether or not either version of this has ever happened, at least car thieves do exist in the Salt Lake City area. To avoid car thieves (and, it follows, any chance to antagonize them should you catch them in the act), park in well-lit areas and always look into your car before getting in.
3. Maintain personal boundaries.
“Criminals are coming up with craftier, less threatening methods of attack, so we have to be extra cautio!” [sic], reads the first line. “Tell your wives and other loved ones!” This “new trick” takes form as a $5 bill which a strange man supposedly waves in a woman’s face in a parking lot in the hope that she will roll down her window. If the woman claims through the glass that she did not drop the fiver, he becomes belligerent and threatening (a trick that has been proven ineffective in inducing people to roll down windows). If the woman does roll down the window, he’ll somehow reach in and…well, the author didn’t get that far.
Nevertheless, it isn’t a bad idea to keep a safe distance from people you don’t know well. The National Crime Prevention Council recommends that you should take special caution to keep them out of your car. Even if it means a slight breach of etiquette, be wary of strangers whose objective is to enter your personal space.
4. Avoid deserted locations and tell others your whereabouts.
If you don’t want sugar water in your gas tank (and you most assuredly don’t), and you’re a woman, you might want to install a combination on your gas cap. At least, that’s the apparent takeaway lesson from this urban legend, which claims that people have been found lurking Target parking lots and pouring sugar water into women’s gas tanks. When the unsuspecting woman leaves the store and drives away, he follows her until her car stalls and then presumably assaults her, since these stories lack the ingenious originality of your average chick flick.
Since the time it would take a car to stall can vary widely, this is an impractical way to stalk victims. However, one principle comes through: you are generally safer in a peopled area than in a secluded one. When going somewhere by yourself, keep others apprised of your destination and estimated time of return. If a dangerous situation arises, it’s best to be under someone’s radar.
5. Don’t be a hero.
Sometimes the difference between harmed and unscathed is a matter of knowing how to delegate. For instance, a crying child asking for help finding their way home or unattended infant on the roadside might be a plant by a…wait for it…rapist. The good Samaritan credulous enough to conduct the child to their bogus address or stop for the baby will inevitably be attacked.
There seems to be no basis for fact in this alleged gang tactic, but it’s good advice to call the police on site when a lost child is found. Most children have hopefully been taught not to talk to strange adults; and calling the police from the current location will be the best you can do. Whether or not there is any danger of assault to you, the police or other emergency respondents will know better how to handle this and other crisis situations than you will.
6. Don’t give personal information to strangers.
You wouldn’t expect s
omeone going by the screen name of “Slavemaster” to attract many women; and indeed, he didn’t. Although the urban legend declares that this person was known to have assaulted murdered 56 women he met online, the real number is suspected to be closer to 5. In any case, the kernel of truth from which this urban legend takes its inspiration is a tragic reminder that you cannot trust everyone.
Particularly when dealing with someone you only “know” online and may not even know the true appearance of, doling out information that could lead to your living room is ill-advised. If you wouldn’t want them in your home, don’t hint at how to get there.
Happily, violent crime is not the risk in Utah it is everywhere else: of the 200 safest cities in the U.S., 4—Provo, Orem, Sandy, and West Jordan—are in Utah. Furthermore, Utah ranks 45th in the nation for violent crimes per capita. The tall tales mentioned above are even less likely here than they are elsewhere in the realm of reality.
Nevertheless, those who are unfortunate to be the victims of assault or domestic violence have legal recourse even beyond criminal persecution. Their injuries, pain and suffering demand attention, and the perpetrator of crimes against them is responsible to pay for their treatment and make restitution for their actions. No one should have to feel helpless after an assault. If someone else’s violent behavior has taken a serious toll on your life, and you don’t know how to claim compensation for their wrongs against you, personal injury attorneys like Christensen & Hymas can help you appeal to the right sources, inform you of your rights, and even represent you if the need arises. For a free consultation, call their office in Draper at (801) 506-0800.
Image courtesy of Alan Cleaver